Good Samaritan says he did what he'd want 'someone to do for my child'
A 5-year-old girl abducted from a West Philadelphia elementary Monday was found early this morning barely dressed and crying in an Upper Darby playground, say police.
Upper Darby Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood said that Nailla Robinson, taken by an unidentified woman in a black Muslim-style face covering from the Bryant Elementary School just across the border in Philadelphia, was found about 4:40 a.m. today.
Authorities say they believe the child was targeted, but did not know the woman who abducted her.
The man who found the little girl, Nelson Mandela Myers, told reporters Tuesday afternoon that she was huddled underneath the slide — shivering and wet.
"I asked: 'Where’s your mother and father?' and she said, 'I don't know.' Someone was chasing her and (she) ran," Myers, 27, said. "I just kept rubbing her. It was cold. ... She wasn’t crying. She was just shivering and saying she was cold."
Myers, a sanitation worker, was on his way to 69th Street Terminal for work in Norristown when he heard a cry from the playground at 69th St. and Patterson Ave. — a short distance from where Nailla abducted.
The girl was near a jungle gym playset and wearing only a black tank-top. Chitwood said he did not know how long Nailla had been outside. It was about 37 degrees and damp from heavy rain overnight at the time Nailla was found.
"I just wanted to do the same thing someone would have done for my child. I have a 5-year-old daughter," Myers said. "When I picked her up, she just reminded me of my daughter so much because she was the same size."
He comforted the little girl until police arrived.
Police sources said that after Nailla was abducted from the school, the woman took her to a residence where a man was also present.
Nailla's clothes were removed. She was blindfolded and hidden under a bed.
It's unclear how the girl managed to get free. Earlier accounts suggest she fled.
But police sources said it appears her abductors might have dropped her off at the playground. She was then told to call someone for help. The girl told the Good Samaritan that she had been stolen, said Capt. John Darby of the Philadelphia Police Special Victims Unit.
Regardless, after she was rescued, Nailla was taken to Children's Hospital in Philadelphia for evaluation of exposure to the cold. Darby said she showed "no overt signs" of injury but was being examined for physical and sexual assault.
Detectives did not immediately interview the girl, Chitwood said. Rather, their goal was to get her checked out.
"Right now the child is safe," Chitwood said.
He said investigators will focus their search for the abductor, or abductors, in the area of the ballfield since it backs up to a residential neighborhood.
"If she ran away, she ran away right in that area," Chitwood said. "A child is not going to be able to go that far."
He added: "It had to be an animal to do something like this, to abduct a child and leave her in the park with just a t-shirt."
The playground where the girl was found is small, and adjoining the ballfield. A jungle gym on the playground has three short, yellow slides, all connected to one structure, under which she was hiding.
Police were investigating the area under the jungle gym early this morning.
The area is adjacent to a row of brick homes, but just a block away from a more commercial area with a Wawa and supermarket.
Philadelphia police announced a $10,000 reward last night for information on Nailla's abduction, and a widespread search was launched.
Nailla was taken by an unknown woman who called herself 'Tiffany.' The woman signed Nailla out of the school around 8:50 a.m. at Bryant Elementary School, 60th Street and Cedar Avenue.
Police said the woman told someone at the school that she was supposed to pick up Nailla. She then signed the school log, but with the presumably false name. The woman went to Nailla's classroom and asked for the child by name, Darby said.
"She indicated that she was the child's mother" and was taking the girl to breakfast, he said.
Nailla's uncle said he believed the woman mentioned someone or something familiar to the girl.
"You would go with them, too, at the age of five," Sharif Ali said.
School district officials said the incident violated school procedure because any adult taking a child from class must show ID and be on a list as a verified parent or guardian.
But school officials didn't discover until 3 p.m. that the wrong person had picked the girl.
Nailla, a 4-foot-tall African-American girl with curly hair and glasses, was seen on surveillance video from the school leaving with the unidentified woman.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia police were on the hunt for the abductors.
Darby, the commanding officer of the special victims unit, said that the woman who took Nailla from the school was a stranger to the child, and that neither parent had given permission for the child to removed from class.
Darby said there is an "intensive effort" to find the woman in the burqa.
"The child was actually targeted," Darby said, "this was not a random act."
The woman knew which classroom to go to, and knew Nailla's name, he said. She left the school on foot with the girl on tow, and no car was used.
"We ask the community at large, if this child was walked through the area in a particular direction, to give us a call," Darby said.
Darby said Nailla had not yet been formally interviewed. As a result, he said some preliminary information could change.
"The investigation is very much alive and active," Darby said.
Staff photographer Alejandro A. Alvarez and staff writer Brian X. McCrone contributed.